How to Hug a Porcupine

porcupine-croppedNext month our oldest daughter turns nine years old and we officially enter the tween zone. So after ten glorious days of family vacation and 30 hours in the car, I just finished my fifth book on the matter. Each book offered many ways I can expect my darling daughter to transform and how I might (and might not) want to respond. After flipping, skimming, laughing, furrowing my brow and talking back to the books, I have to say through it all I had to remind myself to breathe…frequently.

My main take-aways after all that reading?

#1 to prepare for and support my child in seeking independence and a feeling of being “different” from my husband and I. (It’s a tweens job…knowing this, I can embrace it, not fight it)… and

#2, to practice “active listening”.

Ahhhhh, active listening. REALLY listening when another person is talking. Quieting my mind to all the thoughts and judgments and personal insights that want to jump in there when another person is talking to me. Looking the other person in the eye, opening my heart and closing my lips. Breathing. This is what actively listening means to me. And as it relates to parenting a tween, it means being in relationship with as opposed to in control of my daughter.

Even though every book I read mentioned #1 as important, I think it’s #2 that’s going to get me through the tween years more than anything else.


Active listening is a perfect thing to practice in preparation for parenting tweens. I’m taking this on as “mommy” homework this summer, something I am sure my hubby will be happy to hear. *wink* Clearly the most inpiring book I read on parenting tweens was HOW TO HUG A PORCUPINE by Julie A. Ross, M.A. and she spoke alot about listening.

Ross describes beautifully how we as parents can “listen with heart”. I love the image these words paint in my mind. And after five books chuck full of tips, developmental norms, do’s and don’ts…it is this single image of listening with heart that I am left with.


Ross explains that when we learn to listen with heart, we create a “magnetic and creative space” towards which our child is drawn instead of pushed away. Listening in this way we are constantly re-creating our relationship with our child. I see this as a huge bonus for when I screw up which, let’s face it, I’m bound to do on a weekly if not daily (hourly?) basis. Lest you forget, I am a tween-parenting virgin! ;p

The redemptive quality of listening with heart is very atractive to me, ever forgiving myself for mistakes of the past or limitations I see in myself and my mothering in the present. The author shares that although we may make mistakes, this sort of listening causes “an alternating current” which “recharges us so that we never get tired of each other. We are constantly being re-created.” She ends this section with…”I don’t have to be perfect. And neither do you.” I know this. You know this. But isn’t it nice to be reminded? Armed with listening from our hearts, we can do this thing called parenting tweens! Yes we can.

If for instance our tween asks (God forbid) to get a belly-button-ring like her bff and we are tempted to yell, “Over my dead body!” or “Not as long as you live under THIS roof!”, Ross offers that we might take another approach. We can instead breathe…listen…and recite my new parenting montra “Tell me more about that.” *smiles* 

Instead of isolating and controling our tween, in listening with heart, we will hopefully find a space is opened up for us to talk about our feelings, morals and concerns in a way that has us in relationship with our child. We can parent our tween, encouraging her independence while still helping her make her way in the world and manage the big decisions life brings. Not exactly the “My way or the highway approach” but let’s face it, if our kids want a belly button ring, the age will come when no amount of “CAUSE I SAID SO!” will stop them from getting one.

Even if our tweens give us attitude, demand we stop singing 80’s tunes lest they die of embarrassment or attempt to put us off with some other creative tween put-offs…  let’s see if we can still listen with heart. It may not be easy to hug a porcupine, but if you can get your arms around one, I’ll bet it’s well worth it.

Suzanne Tucker, aka Zen Mommy
In addition to mommying to two magical girls born in 2000 and 2003, Suzanne owns a holistic health center in St. Louis, Missouri where she practices as a physical therapist, Certified Infant Massage Instructor and health education teacher. Certified in a number of healing and life education approaches, Suzanne offers life coaching as Zen Mommy Coach and is the co-creator of the Yogi Parenting approach to positive parenting.


  1. “tell me more about that.” Ha! I like that… let me know how it goes. I’m 2 years behind you!!!